Monday, August 29, 2011

Mole Hill

There is a block in the West End that is rich with history. Mole Hill features elegant, restored homes that remind a person of days gone by. On August 20, 2011 the neighbourhood celebrated Vancouver's 125 anniversary and paraded its pride with a street festival.

These Edwardian homes are located at 1114 and 1110 Comox Street and are a mirror image pair that were built by Sam Castleman in 1906. (Castleman was an entrepreneur who had his hand in anything that would make him money)  The original occupants of these houses didn't stay long and soon moved on to wealthier areas of town.

A noted occupant of 1114 was the Vancouver Sanitarium in 1912. A year later the sanitarium had moved on.

It is thought that the turret on 1110 was originally round or at least meant to be round but that couldn't be determined for sure. For many years these two houses as well as their neighbours at 1120 and 1122 Comox were the most well known and visible of those at Mole Hill. They all feature expansive neo-classical front porches, bell-cast eaves and hipped roofs.

The two houses next door - 1120 and 1122 Comox Street - were built in 1904 and 1122 was designed by Thomas Fee and John Parr. The structures were built by Stanley Judson Steeves.

A tailor - Andrew Johnson - was the first resident at 1122 Comox while William Moore, a commercial traveller was first at 1120.

There used to be a house on what is now this greenway. It was built in 1889 by the Curry and Earle family. Now the area has been restored with native plants and a daylighted stream. It is open to the public and leads to the alleyway. This alley is like a little street - paved and providing access to the rear of the homes. The day I was there it was filled with entertainment.
This cowboy was original!

And the alley was filled with music. Although I am a rocker at heart I truly enjoyed the folk sounds of Shannon Ingersoll.
I  have a lot more photos to show you and more information to impart but that is for another day.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Friday, August 26, 2011


As promised today I am going to fill you in on some details about Benjamin Tingley Rogers - a man who helped to shape Vancouver. And I will be showing you many shots of the estate.

B.T. Rogers was born on October 21, 1865 in Philadelphia. He was the second son born to Samuel Blythe Rogers and Clara Augusta Dupuy.

This is not a rag to riches tale but rather one of a young man born into a privileged family that had ties to important businessman in the American Sugar Industry. In fact, Rogers Senior was head of a sugar refinery in Philadelphia and in 1869 Samuel and his brother-in-law Senator Henry Sanford bought a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Samuel next bought a refinery in New Orleans. So sugar was in Benjamin's blood.

B.T. attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. before taking a course in sugar chemistry at Standard Refinery Company in Boston. When his father died in 1883 Benjamin joined the  Havemeyers and Elder refinery in Brooklyn (New York City), which happened to be the most modern of its time. However Rogers was interested in starting his own company and 1889 he saw his chance.

Rogers travelled to Montreal in order to install a new filtering process at George Alexander Drummond's Canada Sugar Refinery. While there he heard talk of a little city in the west, the terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway on the west coast. B.T. quickly realized that Vancouver and the Canadian West, was an untapped market for processed sugar and quickly got to work to establish a refinery here.

There was a lot of support for Rogers and his refinery. Including the president of the CPR, Cornelius Van Horne and other CPR directors. As well as supporters here in Vancouver. On 15 March 1890, by a vote of 174 to 8, electors approved a bylaw that granted B.C. Sugar money for a site, a tax exemption on land and improvements for 15 years, free water for 10 years, and a municipal loan. On 27 March the company was incorporated.

On this bench it reads: 'Hast thou two loaves of bread then sell one to buy flowers. For though the bread will nourish thy body the flowers will strengthen thy soul'. It is a Chinese proverb. One of the people who lives on the grounds had me press my ear to the stone at one end while he said something at the other end. I heard it perfectly!

Rogers faced a technical challenge when the refinery got under way since none of his employees had ever worked in a refinery. But B.T. proved himself to be as adept at managing the refinery as he had been in creating it. With the help from an engineer from Havemeyers, the first melt of raw sugar was put through on 16 Jan. 1891.

It was not easy going for B.T. Rogers since the 1890s depression had started early in Vancouver and Rogers faced fierce competition in Manitoba from Montreal interests. As well merchants in Victoria began selling Chinese sugar at below cost prices to try to steal business.

But Rogers hung on and persevered. By 1916 the company's assets had increased from $250,000 to $7.5 million and the refinery's daily capacity of refined sugar went from 30,000 a day to 900,000 pounds a day. Part of the company's success was due to chemist Roger Boyd's creation - Rogers' Golden Syrup - a highly successful by product using the syrupy by-product of refining. (Good stuff! I used to love it.)

Rogers was a smart man financially. He channelled his bonuses, salary and dividends into company stock whenever possible. He also didn't speculate in land and resources although he did put money into mining companies in the late 1890s in the Cariboo, becoming president of two of them. When he died in 1918 Rogers's estate was worth over a million dollars - quite a sum in those days.

Benjamin Tingley Rogers was quite the man - reportedly he was brash, outspoken and extremely self- confident. He believed that he had the right to manage his business the way he felt was right without reference to any union. He ran the refinery in both a dictorial and paternal manner. He  sponsored the B.C. Sugar Literary and Social Club, which held annual socials for employees. (He reminds me of the landowners and the peasants in Europe. The Lord of the Manor would inspire loyalty and hard work by treating the workers kindly.)
Although Rogers was a Conservative and his business and family life interested him, civic affairs did not. He also was not active politically. According to an obituary, he stated that “he refused to give money to public bodies because they usually squander and waste any money placed in their hands.” A sentiment that many would agree with.

Benjamin married Mary Isabella Angus, a niece of CPR director R. B. Angus, on June 1, 1892. Together they had four sons and three daughters. B.T. died of a cerebral haemorrhage on June 18, 1918 and was succeeded by his son Blythe Dupuy. Many expressed admiration at Rogers' achievements but apparently few people expressed real warmth for the man.

Benjamin Tingley Rogers came to this budding city and helped to not only increase its value with a sugar refinery but also left us a legend to marvel at and two spectacular mansions that inspire us. At least they inspire me. And for showing us what can be done, we owe him.

I would like to thank Alex, B.T's great grandson for inspiring me to go outside my comfort zone and travel to the Shannon Estate. The enjoyment I derived from just stepping on the grounds, from seeing everything, from writing these last four entries and from doing research were well worth the hour bus ride. Thanks too Alex for the information you supplied.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Future of The Shannon

When I left you on Monday financier Austin C. Taylor had just purchased the estate. Taylor was the president of Bralorne Gold Mine. (A little side note. My father's older brother and my mother's oldest brother both worked at Bralorne. So, in a roundabout way, I have a connection to The  Shannon.) Taylor stayed at The Shannon for forty years until his death in 1965.

The Shannon was purchased by developer Peter Wall and he hired Arthur Erickson to make some changes. 1974 the Erickson Massey Architects - including legendary architect Arthur Erickson - developed 162 units in a series of two storey buildings that surround the property.

Thirty odd years later there are more plans to change The Shannon and these ones could drastically alter the estate. A proposed 14-storey condo tower would leave the mansion, coach house and gate house intact but required the razing of the existing townhouse development and most of the trees. (The gatehouse would be isolated behind 4 to 9 storey walls)  In the place of the townhouses there would be two towers of thirteen and fourteen stories as well as numerous smaller ones scattered about that would bring the amount of suites to 891 and the number of residents from 340 to 1600.

The interior of the mansion has been used for the movie industry as well as certain areas are at the use of the tenants that live in the units in the mansion. The new proposal would change all that and make these areas individual strata units.

Quite naturally there are numerous people who are upset with Wall Financial Corp who own The Shannon and if these proposals become reality then Vancouverites will not only lose the work of a great architect, Arthur Erickson but we will also see a fantastic estate changed forever.

I was told that the carving seen in this room was done by out of work shipbuilders. Seeing the detail I could believe it!

Friday I have some more photos of the grounds of The Shannon or Shannon Mews as it is now called. I will also tell you about Benjamin Tingley Rogers.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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